Just before he shifted into rescue mode, Don Czerniak was momentarily stunned Wednesday night when he watched a pickup truck blow through an intersection and drive right into Skaha Lake.
“That was the weirdest thing I’ve ever seen. Right off the end of the Channel Parkway into the water. You could even see the vehicle in the air,” said Czerniak, a Penticton contractor.
The 2009 Dodge Ram went into Skaha Lake at the mouth of the Okanagan River just after 8 p.m. with the ambient temperature near –10 C.
According to the RCMP, the driver of the truck was heading southbound on Channel Parkway and rather than turning at the T intersection with Skaha Lake Road, the vehicle instead carried straight down a path that runs along a spit of land that juts out into the lake.
The truck went down the path about 50 metres before it veered into the water.
Czerniak was driving east on Skaha Lake Road and was about 20 m from the intersection when he saw the truck sail past.
“He just drove right in front of me right into the lake,” said Czerniak, adding the Dodge “didn’t slow down at all” and was travelling at approximately 70 kilometres per hour.
By the time Czerniak parked his truck and made it down to the water to help, the two vehicle occupants, a man and woman, had extricated themselves from the vehicle and were “shaken up,” but standing on shore.
The truck came to rest about 100 m out from the bridge over the river channel and its roof was just visible above the water line.
Penticton RCMP spokesman Sgt. Rick Dellebuur said police have ruled out drugs and alcohol as factors in the incident, which he instead attributed to a combination of “driver inattention and speed.”
Dellebuur said the driver, a 33-year-old male, and his passenger, a 49-year-old female, are from Penticton, and declined to go to hospital after being treated by paramedics at the scene.
Mounties are contemplating charges, Dellebuur added, including driving without due care and attention.
The truck was towed from the water Wednesday night, and by Thursday morning a window scraper and what appeared to be part of a side-view mirror were stuck in the ice that had formed along the shore of the river channel.
Dellebuur said survival time in cold water is relatively short, but the two people involved in the incident were fortunate because their vehicle sank only about 10 m from shore and in relatively shallow water.
“You’re always lucky in any type of these accidents to survive,” he said.